9/11 Panel Won't Hear from Workers
by William Murphy and Graham Rayman
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
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When the federal commission investigating the events of Sept. 11, 2001 meets here next week, it will not hear the voice of rank and file emergency workers who responded that day.
The unions representing the city's firefighters and other emergency workers said they had not been invited to testify. A spokesman for the commission, however, said at least 50 members of the fire service had given statements to commission staff, and that staff had also reached out to the unions but had gotten no response.
Robert Ungar, a spokesman for the union representing ambulance workers, said: "It looks like the commission will get the point of view of the administration that was in place at the time, and the story as told by the current administration."
The fire unions have complained bitterly that Fire Department radios did not work properly that day, and that fire and police officials did not communicate information that could have gotten firefighters out of the second tower before it collapsed.
A police helicopter over the twin towers radioed after the collapse of the first tower that the second tower was likely to collapse.
Police who received that message fled the second tower, but firefighters never got the transmission. The fire department lost 343 members in the attack.
The head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, said through a spokesman that he had not been invited to testify. He declined further comment.
The head of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, Stephen Cassidy, said his union hadn't been invited either.
A spokesman for the 9/11 commission, Al Felzenberg, said the commission staff had taken statements from about 200 witnesses from New York City, including 50 from the fire service.
"We wanted to take public testimony from people who were legally responsible," he said in discussing the selection of witnesses.
He added that union input was sought, and he could not understand why they were objecting to being excluded.
Scheduled witnesses include former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, ex-Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, and Richard Sheirer, former director of the city's Office of Emergency Management, among others.
Ungar said the commission and the public were going to miss a major portion of what happened on 9/11 by not presenting testimony from the people who were at Ground Zero.
"The big missing factor is testimony from the first responders who operated at buildings and inside the buildings, and have the most hands-on and intimate knowledge of what was right and wrong in operations that day," said Ungar, a spokesman for Local 2507, which represents paramedics and EMTS working for the Emergency Medical Service, the ambulance arm of the Fire Department.